By Robert Egbe
A Federal High Court in Abuja has dismissed a N500million damages claim filed by a wanted 23-year-old Dubai-based suspected internet fraudster, Tomilola Sunday Owootomo, against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Justice Taiwo Taiwo also declined to compel the EFCC to return the title document of Owootomo’s N300million mansion at No. 4 Seychelles Street, Efab Metropolis, Karsana, Abuja.
He further refused to order the return of one Mercedes Benz CLA 2014 (ABJ 494 AU), one Mercedes Benz GLK 2014, one Bentley Continental 2015, one Porsche Panamera 2012, one Chevrolet Corvette, one Slingshot Trike Motorcycle 2019, one Apple Macbook Laptop, CCTV Camera Unit, Jewellery (Wrist Watches and Necklaces) and the sum of $70,000 seized by a court order from the suspect’s mansion.
The judge noted the order of interim forfeiture by which the EFCC seized the properties and froze the account, was made by a competent court of coordinate jurisdiction over which he could not “sit on appeal”.
Owootomo had claimed that he was a legitimate businessman and prayed the court to declare that the EFCC unlawfully seized his properties on July 18, 2019, froze his bank account and declared him wanted.
But the court observed that the applicant did not controvert the EFCC’s evidence that it invited him to explain himself and aid its investigation.
Rather than appear to clear himself of the cyber fraud allegations Owootomo absconded to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In an October 16 ruling on Owootomo’s application for special and general damages for breach of his fundamental rights to property and return of the properties, the judge said the judiciary would not encourage the suspect “to use it to truncate investigation and/or prosecution.”
Justice Taiwo held: “Can the applicant, who is said to have escaped from being arrested and now lives in Dubai be said to have proved the infringement of these provisions of the constitution? I think not. Was his right to life denied? Was he denied respect for his dignity in any way when the respondent could not even lay hands on him?
“If he feels so strongly about his being declared wanted and he did nothing wrong and that he carries on legitimate business, why can’t he come back from Dubai in order to clear his name and thereby erase any doubt about his businesses? I do not see the infringement of the personal liberty of the defendant by the respondent in anyway….
The judge further frowned at Owootomo’s decision to challenge the EFCC’s actions in court, through his younger brother.
“The ball is definitely in his court to clear his name and I dare say that the applicant cannot do that by proxy…
“His brother, John Olagoke Owootomo, who went to make enquiries on his behalf at the office of the respondent, cannot by proxy speak for him in an allegation against the applicant personally.”
The judge added: “The hands of the applicant are dirty, he alone, by submitting himself to the respondent for the conclusion of the investigation that is still ongoing can wash his hands clean.
“Aside the fact that this suit is incompetent, it is a gross abuse of the process of the court. The suit is a veil slap on the due process of law if allowed and I will not allow it.
“The suit, to say the least, is an aberration. For these reasons and the reasons I have considered above, the application ought to be dismissed. Same is accordingly dismissed. This is the judgement of the court.”
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According to a 42-page affidavit deposed to on July 18, 2019, by his younger brother, Owootomo Olagoke John, the applicant said on December 21, 2018, his residence was raided by the EFCC officials, who carted away his aforementioned properties. The premises were sealed and marked with the inscription ‘EFCC KEEP OFF’.
The anti-graft further placed a no debit restriction on his bank account. The EFCC further published on their website the raid on his house and declared him a wanted internet fraudster. There was also a publication in newspapers.
The applicant thereafter instructed his younger brother to institute an action in court to recover his property and enforce his constitutional rights.
Owootomo claimed that he was a legitimate businessman based in Dubai who dealt in cryptocurrencies, buying and selling of foreign used cars and real estate business before relocating abroad.
He prayed the court, through his counsel, Chisom Nwosu, to direct the EFCC to release all the seized items, lift the restriction on his bank account, unseal his house, restrain the EFCC from interfering with his fundamental rights, publicly apologise to him in three national newspapers for “publicly labelling and defaming” him “as an internet fraudster in both print and internet media, without any reasonable cause or lawful justification.”
He further sought N500m as special and general damages.
But the Commission’s counsel Mrs Hassana Gambo opposed him, arguing, among others, that the applicant fled abroad after he was invited to respond to some questions that will aid the EFCC’s investigations.
The Commission subsequently declared him wanted.